Gloria Spittel pinpoints the merits of social media for business

Apparently social media is where it’s all at. What ‘all that’ is however, is the question. Another pertinent question is this: ‘Does it matter?’ Everyone (and to a large extent this generalisation is rather apt) is on a social media platform, or even two or three.

The numbers are the key attraction and motivation for all organisations – profit or non-profit – to get in on it too; the exposure is technically real, and to be had if the right content, imagery and person or group of people behind the page can come together in an enticing bite-size package.

That is another important facet for interactions on social media: they are clear, concise and easily recallable. There is so much to grab a user’s attention that constructing and developing eye-catching and relevant content has become an art form, giving rise to the social media expert and other related professions.

But social media campaigns or pages are hard work and professional expertise doesn’t come cheap. An organisation’s social media presence needs to be carefully curated to send out appropriate messages and these should not clash with those on other traditional media. And while the basic platform itself is free, the cost incurred is on an operational basis, which can be substantial.

Regardless of cost however, most organisations either make a proactive decision to establish a social media presence or are compelled to do so due to a competitor’s presence on the medium or customer demands.

Moreover, does the motivation or purpose for being on a social media platform matter? If an organisation only has a social media presence because a competitor does, what are the objectives of that reactive strategy?

Social media is mostly considered to be an important tool for marketing an organisation’s products and services. But it can also be an effective public relations tool to communicate core values, ethics and operational developments. And this is probably where most organisations can (and do) fail.

Instead of communicating with the users of a platform, posts are drafted in such a manner as to be construed as communicating the organisation’s product and service greatness, leadership and perceived quality to users. Posts like these are numerous, so one wonders if they make any impact at all.

The best content on social media is that which appears often. So organisations need to be active regularly. But content that is humble, accessible, interesting, honest and ironically unprofessional (or easy going) can go a long way.

What appears to be impactful on social media is organisational engagement with customers mainly in conflict resolution. How complaints are handled, the language used and the resolution provided should be the very reason for social media presence. Of course, organisations cannot be seen to be pushovers – and yet, care should be taken to communicate their values through testing interactions such as these.

The potential for marketing goods on social media cannot be downplayed or ignored. The growing number of users on these platforms and time spent on social media (according to GlobalWebIndex, the average user logs on to social media sites 1.7 hours a day – that’s nearly 12 hours a week) offer promise for brand visibility and cutting across traditional targeted audiences.

For a small and medium or home-based business, social media levels the playing field in terms of customer reach. But with the professionalisation of social media, increasing content and stupendous algorithms that push posts to the top of newsfeeds or provide suggestions based on previous history of ‘likes,’ small and home business owners may find it difficult to keep pace with eye-catching and relevant details, and run the risk of being buried under too much information.

The advantages are many for organisations that choose to build their brand’s presence on social media, from sharing relevant content easily and more rapidly to engaging customers and even spying on competitors!

But do ads (targeted or otherwise) and ‘likes’ translate into sales or new customers?

Apparently they do but this is an added bonus of a social media campaign with the goal being to create brand awareness and visibility among various demographics. As such, it appears that social media is all that – and it all matters because if nothing else, organisations would not want to fall behind and lose the opportunity to interact with existing loyal customers, address concerns of unhappy customers and gain new customers.

Social media is a great tool. It is a great repository of unnecessary bits of information, unwanted reminders and unsuitable advertisements – maybe because the algorithms are still ‘learning.’ But the medium is truly great because it connects people and is a terrific provider of information if one doesn’t suffer from tunnel vision.

But here again, algorithms dictate what is seen based on history. So how does an organisation break through the controls of the platform?